We hadn’t heard the greatest reviews of Vientiane, Laos’ capital city, but it was inevitable that we would need to travel through it and spend the night at least once. No one had anything particularly bad to say about the place, it just didn’t have any not-to-be-missed sights or activities. So we were headed into town without high expectations – but found ourselves pleasantly surprised.
As we imagined, Vientiane isn’t full of a lot of hustle and bustle. Rather, it’s pretty chill, kinda like the Lao people in general. Things just move along at a medium pace. Walking around that first evening, we were very impressed with the vibrant street scene, the french-inspired architecture, the remarkably clean streets, and the overall feeling of modernity. After spending time in places like India, which are mentioned in the news for their developing global economy yet are very much in disarray in terms of public services and general operations, we were quite surprised that little ole Communist Laos, one of the world’s poorest countries, had such a lovely capital city. Nice sidewalks, all sorts of landscaping and greenery, an awesome riverfront, tree-lined streets, flower-lined avenues, and just no trash anywhere. No clue how they they got so on the ball, who’s paying to keep it clean and landscaped, but it’s nice. The Lao people have something good going on here.
Though we didn’t leave ourselves much time for tourist activities, we did enjoy a lovely sunset walk along the newly-completed Mekong riverfront path (funded by foreign aid). The riverfront was booming with activity – kids playing soccer, couples watching the sun set, teenagers just hanging. One activity we did not expect to encounter – literally hundreds of Lao folks out for their evening exercise. Throughout our trip we had not seen a lot of exercise for exercise’s sake – most people in developing countries have much larger concerns than their level of fitness. Ted got ridiculed in India when he went for a jog – why is this guy running?!? But in Vientiane, we saw runners, walkers, joggers, people on bicycles, roller-bladers – the works! The big kicker was a strangely popular waterfront aerobics class – literally dozens of participants moving in unison in the shadow of a gigantic statue! There were also public exercise stations and stationary bikes lining the path that appeared to be quite popular.
I have no idea why there were so many folks on board the fitness train in Vientiane, but we’ll tack it on our list as another one of the many unexplainable things that we’ve encountered on our travels.